LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers has shown throughout his 16-year N.B.A. career that he is good at a lot of basketball-related activities, including scoring, passing, rebounding and winning. But perhaps one of his most remarkable assets — a feat, really — is his durability. He seldom misses games because of injury.
But now, less than a week after turning 34, James is still on the mend from straining his left groin in a win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. The timetable for his return remains uncertain.
The Lakers announced on Friday, before playing the visiting Knicks, that James would not make a coming trip with the team for back-to-back games against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. The Lakers’ next game after that is on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.
The team said in its statement that James was making “progress with his recovery” as he received daily treatment from the team’s medical staff and that he would be re-evaluated in one week.
Entering Friday, the Lakers had lost three of the four games they had played without James, dropping them to eighth place in the Western Conference standings with a 21-17 record — a precarious position for a team with playoff hopes. The Sacramento Kings were two games back in ninth place.
James’s absence has been compounded by the loss of Rajon Rondo, a veteran point guard who injured a ligament in his right ring finger against the Warriors and could miss three to four more weeks after undergoing surgery. Rondo had already missed 17 games this season because of a fractured bone in the same hand.
Their absences have meant an increased reliance on the team’s young core, which includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. Those players have delivered at times, but not consistently enough to manufacture many wins.
As for James, he had been playing some of the finest basketball of his career, averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from 3-point range. He appeared in each of the Lakers’ first 34 games and had not missed a game since April 12, 2017, back when he was employed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. That gave him a streak of 156 consecutive games played, including in the postseason.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” James said of his sturdiness after injuring his groin. “That’s why it pissed me off not to be able to go back into the game. It’s more than anything being available to my teammates, being available to my coaching staff. That’s something I take more personal than anything. Hopefully it’s not a long thing.”
The Lakers initially listed James as day-to-day after he underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam. But Coach Luke Walton has said that the team will be cautious with James, who signed a four-year, $154 million deal in July.
For much of his career, James has been able to ward off the corrosive effects of his profession — the daily wear and tear, the punishment from defenders. If nothing else, the last couple of weeks have revealed him to be at least semi-mortal, after all — and the Lakers are taking no chances, hoping they can remain afloat until he returns.